Mark 2:1-17

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds – February 9, 2012)

 

 In Mark 2:1-3:6 Mark strings together five events that illustrate the growing conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders of His day.  These events are:

1.      The forgiving and healing of a paralytic man (2:1-12)

2.      The call of Levi (Matthew) and eating with sinners (2:13-17)

3.      A controversy about fasting (2:18-22)

4.      A controversy about picking grain on the Sabbath (2:23-28)

5.      A controversy about healing on the Sabbath (3:1-6)

The result of the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders is given in Mark 3:6 – “And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”  We will look at the first two of these five events in this session.

 

The forgiving and healing of a paralytic man (2:1-12)

     This past Sunday the New York Giants won the Super Bowl.  They were presented with Lombardi Trophy, named after Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers.  Lombardi seemed have unusual ability to evaluate talent and select players who would perform well for him.  James B. Miller in the book The Corporate Coach tells of time Lombardi was asked by a friend how he knew which players to select in the National Football League draft.  Here's what the great coach said:  "We have the best doctors in the Midwest.  We bring in all the blue-chippers before the draft, and examine them from their big toe all the way to the top of their head to find out whether they can play for the Green Bay Packers.  We find out how strong they are and how fast they can run.  We know just about everything about them, except one thing."  "What's that?" the friend asked.  Lombardi explained, "We don't know if they want to pay the price to be a Green Bay Packer and a champion.  We don't know if they have the heart."

            In this story there is a clear contrast between two kinds of hearts.  There are four main characters or groups of characters in this drama. 

·         First, of course there was Jesus, who was central to all that happened that day...

·         Then, there was the man who was ill...all that we know about is that Mark calls him a "paralytic"...whether his paralysis was caused by an accident or illness or whether he had been that way from birth we are not told...

·         Next, there were the four men who came carrying the paralytic into the presence of Jesus...in one sense they can be seen as the heroes of this story...

·         Finally, there were the Jewish scribes who were present that day to evaluate the teachings and actions of Jesus...

If this event were cast as a play, no doubt the leading roles would be those of Jesus and the man who was healed.  However, strong supporting roles would go to the four men and to the scribes.  I want us to focus on what we can learn from the four men who carried their friend to Jesus and from the scribes who criticized what Jesus did.  In these two groups we can be seen two contrasting kinds of hearts or spirits. 

 

The four men who brought their friend to Jesus provide us a picture of a giving heart

1.      I wish Mark would have told us more about these men...Who were they?  What was their relationship with the man who was paralyzed?  Was he a relative -- perhaps a brother or uncle or father?  Was he a neighbor or co-worker?  Or was he just some poor unfortunate beggar they happened to run across in the streets of Capernaum?  Those things we'll never know, but do know they gave this man an incredible gift. 

2.      If look carefully at this story and read between lines a little, will see what these four men did for this paralyzed man was very costly to them...

---Cost them in time - May not have been first time attempted take their friend to Jesus...as saw few weeks ago from Mark 1:32-34, Jesus had been in Capernaum several days before this event, and many of the sick came to him for healing...perhaps at that time these men tried to get the paralyzed man to Jesus...now, here they are trying again... instead of saying, "I'm too busy for your...got other priorities...already given you as much time as I can…" they gave up another day in their lives in effort to this man... doing so cost them in time...

--Cost them in energy - If you've ever tried carry someone any distance on stretcher, know it's terribly difficult thing to do...by time reached home where Jesus was staying, probably were near exhaustion...but when saw crowd blocking door didn't say, "Well, that's it.  We've done the best we can.  Just can't go any further."...instead, went around to side or back of house and hauled the man up the outside stairway leading to the roof which was typical of first century Palestinian homes...probably covered with perspiration by time finally set the pallet down...helping this man cost them in energy...

--Cost them in money - Wasn't simple matter to make hole in that roof large enough lower the man to Jesus...typical was made of large timbers laid parallel to each other two to three feet apart...across these timbers were laid sticks close to each other, forming the basic roof structure...on these sticks was laid reeds, braches of trees, and thistles... on top of that was packed about a foot of earth to make the roof resist water...altogether, such a roof was about two feet thick...these men did considerable damage to this house making a big hole in such a roof...someone would have to pay for materials and perhaps labor to repair it... however, they didn't say, "We can't afford this.  It's costing too much."...helping this man cost them in money...

3.   Point of all that is genuine faith gives...doesn't merely talk... speculate... hypothesize... philosophize... it acts...it does something...James put it well when he wrote:  "If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead..."

4.   The Bible consistently condemns the type of religion that talks without doing...that  professes without practicing...that stresses theological orthodoxy but neglects ethics...that is meticulous about the letter of the law but never comprehends the spirit of the law...a giving heart does what is best for others, even when it is costly to do so…

 

The scribes who criticized Jesus’ actions that day provide us a picture of a critical heart

1.      I want you to notice the difference between actions of the four men and the scribes in this story...in v.3 Mark points out the paralytic was "carried by the four men."...they were doing something...they were being productive...now notice what he says about the scribes in v.6..."the scribes were sitting there" ...one group was engaged in a productive, helpful activity... the other group squandered its time in idle, unproductive speculation...

2.      The four men didn't have time to be critical because they were too busy helping someone in need...the scribes didn't have time to help someone in need because they were too busy being critical...someone has pointed out that the man on the pallet was not the real paralytic in this story....the real paralytics were the scribes...they were paralyzed by their negative, critical attitude..

3.      “Scribes” were experts on the oral and written Law. They were either (1) an official delegation from Jerusalem sent to keep an eye on Jesus or (2) local interpreters of the Jewish traditions for the townspeople. They must have come early to get into the house or they expected to be allowed to move to the front because of their social status.[1]

4.      The striking thing about the scribes is how blind they were to what was going on right in front of them...they were so intent on scrutinizing and criticizing Jesus, they failed to recognize their own blindness...

5.      They were like a person Jesus told about in Matthew 7 in exaggerated language who was trying to get a piece of dust out of a his brother's eye while a giant log was sticking out of his own eye...quick to criticize others, but blind to their own faults...

6.      If there was ever reason for them to believe Jesus was the Messiah, this event provides it...Jesus forgave the man's sins, which even the scribes recognized was only the prerogative of God...Jesus healed the man physically to demonstrate to the scribes that He indeed had supernatural power...Jesus called Himself "Son of Man" (v.10) which was Jesus' way of referring to His being the Messiah for whom the Jews were looking...

7.      But there is no evidence whatsoever that the eyes of these critics were ever opened to the real identity of Jesus...they were blinded by their negative attitude and were closed to the truth...

 

The call of Levi (Matthew) and eating with sinners (2:13-17)

In this section we see four main characters...Jesus, who is at the heart of every event in Mark’s gospel...Levi the tax collector who is called Matthew elsewhere in Scripture...the tax-gatherers and sinners with whom Jesus dined…and the scribes or religious lawyers who were shocked by Jesus' actions...there is something of value to learn from each of them...

 

From Jesus we can learn that every person has great potential...that every person has dignity, value, and worth in the eyes of God

1.   That Jesus would see anything worthwhile or of value in a tax collector was unthinkable to most 1st century Jews...and that He would invite such a person to be His disciple was beyond comprehension...and that He would share a meal with people like Levi was utterly ghastly, because among many ancient religious Jews, eating with a person implied religious acceptance of that person...sharing a meal was considered an intimate social contact, establishing a bond between those who dined together...

2.   To understand why most Jewish people hated the tax collectors, have understand something about the system of taxation under which they lived...Judea and Galilee were occupied territories...Rome sold the right to collect taxes in those areas to the highest bidders...tax collectors like Levi would commit to raise a certain amount of money in a particular jurisdiction for Rome...anything they could raise above that amount was their's to keep...such a system was ripe for fraud and abuse...one writer describes these first century tax collectors as "trained extortionists"...they had right to stop anyone on road, make that person unpack his/her bundles, and charge just about any amount of tax they desired on the items being carried by the person...if the person could not pay the tax, sometimes the tax collector would offer to loan the money at extremely high interest rate...quite naturally the business of tax collecting attracted a criminal element of thugs and strong armed enforcers...

3.   It's easy to understand why the average Jewish person despised the tax collectors...they not only extorted money from people, but they did it in collaboration with the hated Romans...special provisions were written into Jewish law dealing with people who became tax collectors...they were--

                              --barred from the synagogues...

                              --considered as unclean as a wild beast...

                              --forbidden to serve as witness in court...

                              --classified with robbers and murderers...

4.   And it was to person like that  --a person virtually everyone else had written off as being no good, beyond help, incorrigible-- that Jesus said "Follow Me"...look at v.13 for moment and try read between lines a little...there was Jesus teaching in the style of first century rabbis...He was walking along and a great crowd was following behind Him straining to hear His every word...He comes to the place where Levi, the tax collector, had set up shop...the NASB calls the place a "tax office"...probably not building with four walls and reception area....probably more like portable booth that Levi could move from place to place...that's because tax collector of first century kind like highway patrolman with radar gun...if always stayed in same place, no-one would pass by there...would take an alternate route to avoid paying taxes...as Jesus passes by Levi's tax booth, stops, looks directly at Him, and says, "Follow Me"...

5.   Suspect at first Levi was taken back by Jesus' actions...as matter of fact may have glanced over his shoulder to see to whom Jesus was speaking...then he may have said something like, "Me?  You're talking to me?  You want me to follow you?"...ever since he had become a tax collector and probably long before, people had treated him as if he were dirt...they had seen no value in him, nothing worthwhile there...but now, here was this extremely popular teacher inviting him to be a disciple!

6.   When Jesus looked at Levi, He saw much more than a flawed life...He saw what Levi could become...He was much more interested in what Levi could be than in what Levi had been...I like how Gaston Foote put it in his book The Transformation of the Twelve..."Jesus was absolutely indifferent to a [person's] past.  Precisely because He could see deeply into the human soul, He chose Matthew, not for what he was but for what he could become.  He chose him, not for his past, but for his future.  Completely overlooking the fact of "What people would say," [Jesus] was interested only in what Matthew could do for the kingdom.  Jesus' chief condemnation was never against a [person's] past but against his unwillingness to respond to the future." 

7.   Those two simple words Jesus spoke to Levi, words that He is constantly speaking to each of us --"Follow Me"-- should serve as reminder that every person has value and worth in the eyes of God...

 

From Matthew we can learn the importance of obedience

1.      The last part of verse 14 is a beautiful example of obedience.  “…He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he rose and followed Him.”  The obedience of Matthew was immediate, complete, and without question.  That is a model we are to follow because there is no substitute for obedience in the life of a Christian.  Jesus said, “If you live Me, you will keep my commandments…” (John 14:23)

 

From the tax-gatherers and sinners with whom Jesus shared a meal, we can learn that no person is outside the scope of God’s love.

1.      It's impossible for us understand impact phrase in v.15 about Jesus "reclining at the table [with] tax-gatherers and sinners" would have on those in first century world...in eyes of the religious authorities, that was utterly scandalous thing for Jesus to do...in first century Jewish culture, to share a meal with another person was one of most intimate forms of social contact...it implied acceptance of, and in some cases even approval of, the person with whom the meal was shared...

2.      Jesus wasn't eating with just anybody...He was sharing a meal with "tax-gatherers and sinners"...we've already explored in some detail how much the average person in Judea and Galilee hated the "tax-gatherers"...they were basically extortionists who had abandoned their own country to serve the Romans and in process line their own pockets...the term "sinners" may be a technical term...was used to describe not just those people who did things that were morally wrong...described those who failed to observe religious ritual of law...these were the non-religious people of the first century...they didn't go to the synagogues on the Sabbath...they didn't observe the special feast days...they didn't  make the appropriate sacrifices in the Temple...

3.      But the great hope of the gospel is that no-one is outside the scope of God’s love.  Anyone, no matter who they are or what they have done, who genuinely repents and casts themselves on God, will find love and acceptance.  The Bible is filled with examples of that truth: 

--God can forgive a murderer who recognizes he/she has a need...did so in case of Moses and made him leader of Israelites....

--God can forgive an adulterer who recognizes he/she has need... did so in case of David and made him greatest king in Israel's history...

--God can forgive coward/traitor who recognizes he/she has need... did so in case of Peter who denied even knowing Jesus at most crucial hour of His life...made Peter leader of early church...

--God can forgive person guilty of blasphemy who recognizes he/she has need...did so in case of Paul who cursed name of Jesus, uttered threats against the church, and carried out those threats...made Paul greatest missionary/theologian in history of Christianity...

4.   Important not to misinterpret the meaning of Jesus' actions in this passage...that's what the Pharisees did...they thought because Jesus was with such people, He was affirming their life-styles...the question they asked in v.16, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?" indicates they interpreted Jesus' actions as expressing approval of all these people did...truth is, Jesus never excused or condoned sin in any way...but neither did He ever stop loving sinful people...and He knew it is impossible to love people from a distance...

 

From the scribes who criticized Jesus we can learn that religious ritual is a poor substitute for genuine concern for people

1.      One writer points out the difference between Jesus' attitude and the attitude of the Pharisees with this insightful statement:  "The ... Pharisees despised the common man; Jesus loved him.  The ... Pharisees stood on their little eminence of formal piety and looked down on the sinner; Jesus came and sat beside him, and by sitting beside him lifted him up." (Barclay, Gospel of Mark, p.51)

2.      In Matthew's account of this event is interesting detail that Mark for some reason omitted...Mark does not give us the entire statement of Jesus...Matthew reports that after Jesus said "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick" and before He said "For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners"  He said, "But go and learn what this means, 'I desire compassion and not sacrifice...'"...that is, "Don't substitute religious ritual for genuine love and compassion for people!" 

3.      And if we find ourselves viewing people with different values and life-styles than ours more with attitude of contempt than compassion, that's one evidence that we are characterized by same spirit of self-righteousness that characterized the Pharisees in this passage...



[1] Utley, R. J. D. (2001). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (31). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

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